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A brief history of plastic

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For centuries, billiard balls were made of ivory from elephant tusks. But when excessive hunting caused elephant populations to decline, they began to look for alternatives. John Wesley Hyatt took up the challenge. In five years, he invented a new material called celluloid, which would become known as the first plastic. Trace the history of the material that ushered in the “plastics century.”

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Music Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Sound Designer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • Special Thanks Mahrukh Bashir
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
What comes to our minds, when we think of plastics? Convenient and cost effective products, single use products, pollution in the seas. Have you ever wondered where all this started? How did Plastic become a part of our life. Let’s take a look at the history of plastics.

Less than 50 years ago plastic was not so common, and it was a completely natural product. Learn more about the history of plastic from this timeline. With human innovation, it became a cost effective and widely used product. Plastics are everywhere from cheap toys to packaging materials. Read this article to learn how the plastic bag became popular. On the one hand, Plastics opened up a lot of possibilities and replaced expensive materials with cheap alternatives. However, this convenience came with a price of damaging the environment. Watch this TED-Ed lesson to learn about what happens to plastic when it’s thrown away, and this TED talk to learn about a solution to plastic in the oceans.

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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Music Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Sound Designer Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • Special Thanks Mahrukh Bashir
  • See more